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Retirement community creates project to document the effects of the pandemic

Pandemic at the Meadows is an ongoing project by a Chapel Hill retirement community. The project documents the effects of COVID-19 on their lives.

Residents from Carolina Meadows, a retirement community in Chapel Hill, hosted a virtual conference last week to discuss an ongoing project that works to document the effects of COVID-19 on their lives and on the community. 

The project, “Our History: Pandemic at the Meadows," was launched last May in partnership with the Chapel Hill Historical Society. 

While the first component of the project, a compiled book of stories on staff and resident experiences, has been published, others are still in the works, such as a time capsule, recordings of oral histories and a 30-minute documentary film. 

Don Stedman, who created and is leading the project, said it's important to capture how the pandemic affected Carolina Meadows. 

"One of the things that motivated me was that I've learned over the years that there's a healing effect of people telling their stories, telling life stories," Stedman said. 

He said the idea behind the project began with the idea of creating a time capsule, which is set to be opened on Carolina Meadows' 50th anniversary — approximately 15 years from now. 

The contents inside the time capsule initially consisted of a wooden cabinet that includes masks, a test kit, a scrapbook of newspaper clips, public documents and photos by resident Dixie Spiegel.

But it has come to encompass a wide variety of relics and items that represent how Carolina Meadows has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents are able to add items until the capsule closes, Stedman said. 

In addition to the time capsule, the project also features audio recordings of residents' experiences during the pandemic.

Using help from five researchers from the Southern Oral History Program, Carolina Meadows conducted a series of 40 interviews — roughly half from Carolina Meadows staff and the other half from residents, Stedman said. 

“The staff and residents are quite close,” Stedman said. “There's a good social distance, but a real friendship.”

The interviews will be archived at the UNC Wilson Library and the Love House, a history center on Franklin Street. They will also be available at the Carolina Meadows' library and the Club Center at Carolina Meadows.

The project features a 30-minute documentary about how the Carolina Meadows community has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The film, scheduled to debut in the fall, was produced by Raleigh-based directors Julie Williams Dixon and Warren Gentry.  

During the meeting, Carolina Meadows resident Judy Jones presented a book entitled “Chronicles of the Pandemic," which compiles stories, poetry and music from residents about their COVID-19 experiences. 

After conducting around 40 interviews with residents and staff, Jones said at the conference that she wanted to invite residents to submit stories. She received roughly 73 contributions. 

“We thought ‘boy, there are so many people who have stories to tell' and we wanted to give people an opportunity to tell those stories," she said at the meeting. 

Carolina Meadows resident John Haynes created a photographic essay that records key pandemic-related events from December of 2019 to November of 2021, such as making COVID-19 masks and delivering food to Carolina Meadows residents

Looking ahead, Haynes said he hopes these reflections will help future generations learn lessons from the residents' pandemic experiences. 

“I think we've learned enough that the next time I hope we remember these things that we learned and put them in effect immediately,” Haynes said at the meeting. 


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